The 2016 NBA Finals marked the second time in consecutive years when the Cleveland Cavaliers met the Golden State Warriors for the Larry O’Brien Trophy. The Steph Curry-led Warriors had taken the series the previous year in six games to win the crown against a Cavaliers side that missed Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving for most of the series. However, despite having their two superstars alongside LeBron James, the Cavs were up against a Warriors side that had only lost 9 games in the 82-game regular season led again by the league’s first ever unanimous MVP, Stephen Curry.
The first two games only served to reassert the Warriors dominance during the regular season as they beat the Cavs by double digit margins both times (104-89 in Game One and 110-77 in Game Two) to make sure that their home court advantage was preserved going into the next two games in Cleveland, Ohio.
Back on their own floor at the Quicken Loans Arena, the Cavaliers were led by LeBron James and his 32 points as they blew the Warriors out 120-90 in Game Three to cut the series deficit to 2-1. However, they failed to capitalise on this and lost a crucial Game Four with Steph Curry’s 38 points enough to overcome the home side 108-97.
Despite being 3-1 up in The Finals, a key incident in Game Four changed the way the series would then play out. An altercation between Draymond Green and LeBron James saw Green suspended for Game Five. Without his defensive prowess and expertise, LeBron and Kyrie Irving ran riot in Game Five on the road as both of them became the first teammates to put up 40 points or more each – leading the Cavaliers to a 112-97 win at the Oracle Arena. In Game Six back at home and with the chance to force a decisive Game Seven, good defensive plays as well as a monster 41-point performance from James, coupled with Stephen Curry fouling out in the fourth quarter, led to the Cavs winning this one 115-101, forcing a decisive winner-takes-all game in Oakland, California.
In a tense Game Seven with a decidedly partisan crowd in attendance, the Cavs and the Warriors went toe-to-toe with each other, every possession more important than the one before. At half-time the Warriors went in with a seven point lead (49-42). However, a blistering period of play in the third quarter from Kyrie Irving saw them come right back into it and tie the game at 54. With tensions mounting, the game came down to the last few possessions and a series of events followed that came to be known as “The Block, The Shot and The Stop”.
With the score tied at 89, Andre Iguodala received a bounce pass from Steph Curry and as he went up for the layup, he was blocked from behind by James, in what has since been recognized as one of the most iconic plays of James's career. Kyrie Irving then went one-on-one against Curry and then stepped back into a three-point shot with the shot clock winding down to give the Cavs a 92-89 lead. And Kevin Love, after being forced to guard Curry following defensive switches, managed to stifle the Warriors guard and forced him into a bad shot. Eventually, in the next possession, after a low percentage three point shot which failed to go in, the Warriors succumbed to the Cavaliers, with the final score being 93-89.
The Cavaliers coming back from 3-1 down to win a series was only the 11th time it had ever happened in playoff history and the first in Finals history. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love won their first ever NBA titles while LeBron won both his third and his first with Cleveland – ending the city’s 52-year championship wait. Cleveland and Golden State would go on to meet two more times after that, including last year, but the Warriors – now with the added firepower of Kevin Durant – would take the next two series with relative ease.